Hope Under Fire - Ch 3
Tuesday dawned under a hazy gray sky. By the time Hope made it to Lynn’s backdoor, fat drops had begun to speckle the concrete. Rain chased off the regulars, which meant a particularly long day of less than stellar gratuities.
She hated being off work. The server’s drink station wasn’t stocked to her liking, the menus weren’t all facing the same direction and the specials board hadn’t been wiped clean. She trained hires well, but her standards were miles ahead of theirs. Lynn’s meant the world to her.
While the coffee brewed, her thoughts traipsed back to Veronica’s critique. It was beyond pitiful that these four walls meant more to her than her home, than her family, than herself. Fifteen years had passed by in a flash. But there was no denying that it did her heart good to feel needed, to feel indispensable in a job where employees came and went so thoughtlessly.
When she opened shop at five-thirty, her senior server strolled in, a broad smile on her face and an umbrella perched over her shoulder. “Here, as promised. Now let’s see if any customers show up.”
“If it’s slow, I’ll have to send you home,” Hope replied, pulling the door shut. “Can’t argue with Jake about labor cost.”
“I’ll take the hours unpaid if Tucker shows up.”
Hope scoffed, rolling her eyes as she joined Veronica behind the counter.
“I’m serious, Hope,” she insisted, taking her supervisor’s hand. “I thought about it all through class. The professor called me out in front of everyone and I still couldn’t snap out of it. You have to talk to him today. It’s driving me crazy!”
Hope snorted. “You’re crazy, all right. I told you I would. I don’t break promises. Now finish brewing the coffee and rolling the silverware while I do the produce order.”
“Yes, ma’am,’ Veronica retorted with a dramatic bow, strolling to the drink station as Hope grabbed the clipboard tucked under the register.
The morning bled into the afternoon as the dreariness continued beyond the restaurant’s broad windows. Hope found menial labor to keep her and Veronica’s hands busy while Hank scrubbed every kitchen surface with his shock-rock music blaring around him. At one, the dining room was empty. With cleaning and stocking tasks caught up, Hope had no choice but to dismiss Veronica. The server argued, buying herself a few more minutes to allow for Tucker’s arrival. Inside ten minutes, Hope was tired of arguing and the server perched happily at the counter, her apron hung on the hook in the kitchen for the following day.
Unfortunately for both, Mr. Angelini didn’t grace Lynn’s with his presence at all, and when Hope locked the door at two, both ladies and the aging cook were ready to walk away. After dismissing the other employees, Hope counted the measly amount in the till.
She stepped from the backdoor, locking it tight behind. She took one instinctive step toward home before catching sight of Tucker, standing between her and the sidewalk, a giant umbrella lifted above his lazy mop of brown hair. Rain pelted her as she froze on the spot, her hands clenched as he closed the distance between them. She was close enough to catch the scent of his oceanic aftershave when he edged in, covering them both with the fabric.
He dipped his head to smile at her. “Sorry I’m late. Mind some company on the walk home?”
Her eyes darted to his BMW, parked nearby, then back to him. “You… huh?”
He couldn’t help chuckling at her perplexed expression. “Sorry, let me start over. Hi, the name’s Tucker. May I walk you home?”
She went to smack his arm then thought better of it and blushed ferociously. “Shut up. I just… I wasn’t expecting this. It’s very nice of you, but don’t tell me you drove all the way here for a six-minute walk.”
“Fine, I won’t tell you that. Now come on before you freeze.”
She shook her head and smirked. “I don’t want to know how you knew I walk to work. And just so you know, fancy cars like yours have passenger seats, too.”
He pressed the key fob in his pocket, locking the doors as they passed. “It wasn’t hard to figure out. And those passenger seats you’re talking about, I hear they come standard. But I figured a cautious, prudent woman such as yourself wouldn’t accept a ride from a stranger.”
“I’m pretty sure you’d’ve hit me over the head and dragged me off by now if you’d meant to. I was oblivious just now. I’m pretty set in my ways. That’s probably unsafe, huh?”
“Am I interrupting your routine?”
“Absolutely, but surprisingly, I’m okay with it.”
Tucker’s left side dripped with rain but she was protected. His dryer worked just fine. Watching her smile, unclench, was worth the soggy ride home. “Slow day?”
“Mm, very much so. Rain keeps customers away. I wish the business wasn’t so weather-sensitive. You know, I never asked what you do for a living.”
“Nothing spectacular,” he replied quickly. “Second-shift management job in Newport, two minutes from my apartment.”
“You live in Newport?” Hope gaped. “The traffic is horrible and it’s a good forty miles off.”
“Tell me about it, but Mom needs me. And this new facility isn’t working out as well as I’d hoped, so I signed a lease today for a condo a few minutes away. The commute’s part of my daily routine now, and Lynn’s is becoming part of it, too.”
“We’re thankful for your business, but my God, I’m sorry to hear she’s having trouble. Is it just that she hasn’t acclimated yet?”
“I hope so. She’s a challenging patient. But I owe my folks everything, for way more than my life, so I’ll be there for her. Do you see or talk to your parents between your endless shifts?”
“Those endless shifts you’re referring to keep my lights on, and yes, my mother checks in everyday to make sure I’m breathing. Only child syndrome. I humor her, tell her what she needs to hear.”
“Mine has no idea who I am,” Tucker confessed, turning to her as she stopped in front of a row home’s concrete stoop. “Hasn’t for over a year now. Dad’s not around to make excuses anymore.”
Hope laid a palm over her heart. “Oh Tucker, I’m so sorry. I can see why you worry.”
“Don’t apologize. I should for unloading. I shouldn’t have.”
“You absolutely should have,” she breathed, touching his forearm. “You can tell me about them whenever you want. And thank you for walking me home.” She stepped under the awning and up the two steps, glancing down at him as he watched from under his umbrella. “Will I see you tomorrow?”
“Without a doubt, bright and early. Oh, and Hope?”
She turned back, her key in the front lock. “Yeah?”
“You’re impossible to forget.”
A coy grin brightened his face as he turned back toward Lynn’s, avoiding puddles as he crossed the street. She stepped inside and hurried to the front window, tugging the curtains aside to watch every step he took.
She wanted so badly to trust, to fall. Something deep inside scolded her for it.